film review

one night in miami

by louise giAdom

(5/5 stars = ★★★★★)

Even before One Night In Miami has a chance to start we already know to expect something great. Inspired by true events, Regina King’s directorial debut centres around an imaging of a meeting between legends Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke. Never one to disappoint, King, along with a screenplay by Kemp Powers who actually wrote the original stage play the film is based on, definitely delivers greatness, managing to effortlessly twine together a film that is altogether entertaining, emotional, and educational. 

Immediately we’re introduced to the expected 1960s time period. Muhammad Ali is booed at his London fight, Sam Cooke bombs his performance in front of a white crowd - many of which get up and leave once they realise they’ll be entertained by a Black man - and last but not least, that Jim Brown scene. We spend a few minutes with Jim Brown [Aldis Hodge] as he speaks with a white family friend Mr. Carlton [Beau Bridges]. When Brown offers to help Mr. Carlton move furniture in his house, with a laugh and fond shake of the head he replies “you know we don't allow n*ggers in the house.” After such a warm welcome and the continued offer of support from Mr. Carlton, Jim Brown is left reeling on the porch, in a position we can only imagine many Black people felt during these times - on the outside looking in, accepted but not ever fully so. Just over 10 minutes into the movie and already the punches are coming.

The film builds on these racial tensions as all four characters eventually come together and discuss the civil rights movements and each of their places in it. Malcolm X [Kingsley Ben-Adir] and Sam Cooke [Leslie Odom Jr.] clash repeatedly while Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali [Eli Goree] try to somewhat salvage the night. What I found most striking about this film upon watching it a second time was that it is inherently a movie about four friends, they just happen to be historical figures and it happens to be set during a time of such historical relevance. It almost seems like such a simple concept - ‘four friends discussing a variety of important issues’, but it is made so much bigger by the fact that it is these particular friends discussing something we are able to look back on and recognise their impact on.

As these characters discuss all kinds of things from the civil rights movement in general to - very briefly - colourism within the Black community, One Night In Miami first and foremost highlights the importance of having and using your voice during times of urgency. Something many if not all of us can sadly still relate to as shown by recent instances with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Dipping between intense and lighthearted, funny and emotional, this is a film that keeps you on your toes. It’s full of a mountain of information and provides a context to the lives of these well-known icons that makes the ending even more impactful, especially accompanied by Leslie Odom Jr.'s rendition of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come

It’s easy to forget this is a work of fiction because it uses such recognisable figures to discuss so many important things, you almost believe this really happened and this is what they would actually say. What Regina King and Kemp Power have ultimately created is an impressive character study into four different personalities at the forefront of a tumultuous time. One Night In Miami is the type of film we can only hope to get more of - informative, entertaining, hard hitting, impactful and simply a joy to watch.